From child labour to top chef

Luong has always loved cooking. But he never dreamed his passion for pastries would one day see him lead a team of chefs cooking in five-star resorts — let alone enable him to break the poverty cycle for him and his family.

An impossible dream?

At four years old, Luong had already learnt from his mother how to cook a meal. But at that time, cooking was as much a necessity as it was a joy for Luong. His parents worked hard, all day every day, leaving Luong as head chef for him and his younger brother.

At 11, Luong left school to find work so he could help his family out financially too. By 14 he’d fallen victim to a human trafficking scam. He was forced to work up to 15 hours per day in an oppressively hot, exploitative garment factory. His dream of becoming a chef was never further from becoming a reality.

A passion re-ignited

This gruelling regime lasted a year, before Luong was rescued and introduced to Blue Dragon. Immediately, we offered support to him and his family.

Free to be a kid again, Luong’s mind returned to his forgotten childhood passion. “I thought about how I loved to cook and wanted to be a chef,” he says. “So during my career counselling sessions with Blue Dragon, I asked how to do it.”

Luong enrolled in a vocational training course, near his hometown, and his path to pastry extraordinaire began.

“I loved it. But it wasn’t easy, the course threw up many challenges. I was glad that I didn’t give up.”

After three years of study, Luong graduated and began an apprenticeship in Hanoi. Over the next decade, he showed extraordinary determination and resilience. His career has risen faster than one of his flawless soufflés and he is now an executive pastry chef, leading a team of 12 whipping up delectable pastries in a 5-star resort hotel.

 

Using challenge to inspire

Far from holding him back, Luong sees what he’s overcome as an advantage and shares barriers he’s overcome proudly with his team.

 “I’ve been through a lot in my life, so I know what it feels like for young people at the beginning of their careers. I love sharing my personal experiences with my team, to inspire them at work.”

“Because of my history, I believe I work better with others,” says Luong. “When there’s disagreements in my team, I take care to listen to their thoughts, so I can understand each side. Then I figure out how to settle the dispute as best as possible for everyone involved.”

Mission accomplished

Since he was young, Luong’s dream was to be a chef; today, Luong is still young — not even 30 — and has accomplished that dream and then some.

Now he dreams of inspiring more people like him to become chefs and hopes one day he’ll open his own bakery and coffee shop. Somewhere he can share his exquisite creations and his passion for using Vietnamese ingredients, and teach others in workshops.

Luong has become a keen advocate for education, encouraging children to stick with school or enter vocational training. In his hometown, he’s introduced many children to training opportunities, like the one that started his career, and offers career advice. He’s now helped six people find work as chefs in restaurants across Vietnam and his younger brother has followed in his footsteps.

What advice does Luong have for others like him? “You’re sure to face a lot of difficulties and disappointment in life. But as long as you don’t give up, you can follow your dream.”

“What you can do right now is to study, study and study. Grab every chance possible to gain as much knowledge and skill you can while you’re young. Then when you get older and more mature, you can find your own passion and follow it. Don’t give up!”

Education, education, education

Luong’s journey exemplifies Blue Dragon’s mission. Overcoming poverty and human trafficking, he has used education to pursue his passion. Over the past two decades, Blue Dragon has seen thousands of times the power of education to change children’s lives, whether it’s academia or vocational training.

Every child deserves the chance to dream big, just like Luong.

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